Public works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

Anne Noble, Ruby’s Room No 16 (2001). Col­lec­tion Queens­land Art Gallery. Pur­chased 2006. On dis­play, Su­gar Spin: You, Me, Art and Ev­ery­thing, Gallery of Mod­ern Art, Bris­bane, un­til April 17. For more than eight years Anne Noble ex­plored what chil­dren do with their mouths by tak­ing un­set­tling close-up pho­to­graphs of her young daugh­ter, Ruby.

In a se­ries of 45 large for­mat, high-def­i­ni­tion pic­tures, Noble cap­tured Ruby’s mouth in var­i­ous guises: pok­ing out her tongue to re­veal vividly coloured sweets or spew­ing forth a lurid orange tongue of bub­blegum. In more con­fronting im­ages, Ruby’s mouth is taped shut, or her lips smudged with red lip­stick, or a thread pulled across her mouth, press­ing into the soft­ness of her flesh.

Nolan is one of New Zealand’s fore­most artists and Ruby’s Room brought her in­ter­na­tional ac­claim. Her work is in nu­mer­ous col­lec­tions, such as the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris and Bris­bane’s Queens­land Art Gallery.

Nolan’s way of work­ing in­volves ded­i­cat­ing her­self for a long pe­riod to one spe­cific project; she worked on Ruby’s Room from 1998 to 2007.

Asked once why she chose to fo­cus on the mouth, she replied that she wanted to present a record of grow­ing up “through close scru­tiny of a site where life hap­pens — the mouth that speaks, tastes, smiles, re­acts, learns, loves”. The pho­to­graphs mag­ni­fied mo­ments of grow­ing up that nor­mally were not cel­e­brated. “They’re de­lib­er­ately not erotic, not ro­man­tic, not ideal, not per­fect,” she said. “I was in­ter­ested in over­looked mo­ments that when de­picted might cre­ate a dis­cor­dant chal­lenge to the adult romance with child­hood as lost in­no­cence.”

Some of the pho­to­graphs from Ruby’s Room are on dis­play in Bris­bane in Su­gar Spin: You, Me, Art and Ev­ery­thing, an ex­hi­bi­tion cel­e­brat­ing the Gallery of Mod­ern Art’s 10th birth­day. As ex­hi­bi­tion cu­ra­tor Geral­dine Kir­rihi Bar­low and I stand be­fore Ruby’s Room No 16, she says the artist made an in­ter­est­ing de­ci­sion to use the re­peat mo­tif of the mouth, and she found an un­usual way to em­pha­sise that part of the body.

Ruby was about six when Nolan first started pho­tograph­ing her daugh­ter. De­pict­ing chil­dren has proved to be a con­tentious is­sue but, as Bar­low ex­plains, Ruby’s Room was a true col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Noble and her daugh­ter. The part­ner­ship started when Ruby ob­jected to a pho­to­graph her mother took of her while she was sleep­ing on the couch. When Ruby later saw the pho­to­graph, she was un­com­fort­able about it and told her mum that if she was go­ing to pho­to­graph her she had to ask. Ruby said they had to do it to­gether.

Bar­low be­lieves we see Ruby as a col­lab­o­ra­tor, not just a pas­sive sub­ject. “Her own daugh­ter’s in­sis­tence on be­ing an ac­tive col­lab­o­ra­tor

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